I was in 6th grade in 1976 during America’s Bicentennial. I played Abraham Lincoln in the school’s celebration, my family parked next to the Pentagon to watch the fireworks above DC and our class visited the newly opened Air and Space Museum. And of course TV commercials were chock full of patriotic themes from morning until stations signed off with the national anthem. It was a good time to be an American.
Looking back I lived in a cocoon of security that comes with knowing that the world was as it was supposed to be, as if God had our backs. It seemed as if the America I knew was almost predestined, as if it was inevitable that our nation would grow from a scrappy upstart in 1776 to the leader of the world in 1976. America was Manifest Destiny writ large.
It wasn’t until years later that I would discover that was an illusion. Although 9/11 had given me a glimpse of the wrinkle in the matrix, it wasn’t until I saw Tom Selleck playing IKE in Countdown to D-Day in 2004 that I fully recognized and appreciated that things didn’t have to turn out the way they did. Embarrassingly, it wasn’t until watching that movie that I discovered Eisenhower had written a letter in case D-Day failed. That fact was like a brick thrown through the plate glass window of my illusions. I’d always known, like one accepts gravity without being told, that the US victory in WWII was preordained, but if the guy in charge of D-Day wasn’t certain of victory then certainty didn’t exist.
You would think that awakening would shake my confidence in America, but it didn’t. Just the opposite. Suddenly America’s success was not the result of robots acting in a play written by God, but rather, the result of the actions of millions of normal Americans doing things, trying things, building things, failing and picking themselves up by their bootstraps and returning to the fight… Sure, there were other factors, such as advances of the 2,000 years of western civilization that preceded 1776, bad decisions on the part of other nations and of course good luck and the grace of God, but at the end of the day, in a worldwide competitive marketplace of ideas and ideologies America had prospered because of the efforts of her citizens.
That puts American history in a completely different light. Looking at it through that lens, it seems to me that we faced five crucial points where had things gone just a little differently the history of the world would have changed. While there are literally countless little things that might have changed the course of history, these five stand out to me.
The first was the fight for independence. In 1776 the British Empire was the largest and most powerful empire the world had ever seen. The sun literally never set on an empire that included Australia, India, a quarter of Africa, half of North America and the British Isles themselves. Had things gone slightly differently, America as we know it might never have existed. Had the British ruled over the colonies with a tighter fist in the early 18th century, had Washington lost the Battle of Trenton or had a financially strapped King Louis XVI decided not to support the Americans against the British, the history of the world would likely have been dramatically different.
The second was the writing of the Constitution and the launch of the Republic. Had the 3/5th compromise never been made it’s likely the southern states would have formed their own country and North America would have grown into a fractured continent like Europe with all its attendant inefficiency, shifting alliances and wars. Had anti-Federalists not pushed for a Bill of Rights, American freedom and prosperity would likely never taken root. Had Washington, Adams or Jefferson had tyrannical tendencies they could have smothered the new Republic in its bassinet. Had America not emerged as a Republic from the chaos of the late 18th century the world would likely have been dramatically different.
The third point was the Civil War. Had Grant’s genius not brought victory at Vicksburg, the British not resisted calls to support the South or Sherman not taken Atlanta, the South may have been victorious or at least been able to negotiate a settlement rather than surrender. In either case the history of America and that of the world would likely have been dramatically different.
The fourth point was WWII. Like me, many Americans take for granted that the US was going to win the war. That of course is not true at all. Countless events could have changed the outcome. Had American cryptographers not deciphered Japanese code revealing plans for an attack on Midway, had the British not persevered during the Battle of Britain, eventually giving the Allies a base from which to launch D-Day, or had Hitler not invaded Russia or micromanaged his generals, the world would likely look dramatically different than it does today.
Which brings us to the fifth critical point in American history. Unlike the first four, this is not in the history books, but rather is being written today. There are essentially two directions the United States can go forward from 2022. One is a course correction that puts the nation back on the path that created the greatest prosperity in human history. The other seeks to destroy the very things that created the greatest prosperity in human history.
Most Americans assume that things will just work out. That marriage can be changed from a man and a woman to something else and we’ll all just get along. That society can discriminate against white Americans in the name of diversity or equity and they’ll happily acquiesce. That millions of uneducated, unskilled people from third world countries can invade our country and there will be no negative impact on society. That trillions of dollars can be diverted to the fiction of prosperity powered by “green” energy and electricity will remain plentiful and gasoline will remain available. That the media and education establishments can perpetually disparage America and her heroes and somehow patriots will continue to risk their lives to protect her. That criminals can be allowed to commit crimes with impunity and citizens will go on as if nothing had changed. And finally, the government can stifle free speech and rig elections and no one will do anything about it. Most Americans will say that those things are just politics and everything will work out. It always has before…
But that’s simply not true. Things never just work themselves out, particularly on the big things. People pull together and work hard to make things work out. But when a population is turned against itself, when a nation’s government sees half its population as the enemy, when children are taught their country is evil and is putting the future of humanity in danger, not only will things not work out, but that nation will eventually collapse. Balkanization is literally the only outcome, and the side with the government on its team will likely crush their opponents. Then, after patting themselves on the backs, the victors will themselves become balkanized and the process will begin again. That never ending cycle results in prosperous nations becoming Venezuela or Zimbabwe, with a tiny cabal of elites controlling a vast population of serfs toiling away in search of scraps.
That is America’s future if we remain on our current path. The question is, who will be our IKE or our Neo?